Mike Bartlett’s third concurrent London opening is the silly, superficial and entertaining Scandaltown at the Lyric Hammersmith
“The world is a terrible place, full of evil people like Andrew Neil”
Does theatre always have to be so deep and meaningful? Can we just sometimes get a bit of beautifully designed frivolity that we need to chew over on the way home? That most prolific of writers right now Mike Bartlett might seem to think so as Scandaltown – his third show to open in London in recent weeks – suggests, embracing the silliness.
Toying with form once again as he likes to do, this show sees him transplant the world of Restoration comedy into the 21st century. And he lines up a series of targets – societal hypocrisy whether in the media or politics, generational gaps in attitude and empathy, obsession with media in all forms – which he hits with a gently satirical bent in Rachel O’Riordan’s entertaining production.
Some might long for a more incisive attack on the venal – something hinted at with up-to-the-minute references to Partygate – but that’s not really what Bartlett is aiming for. Millennials and media types are given a good raking but in the spirit of coming together, the shenanigans of mistaken identities, seductions and revelations resolve into something charmingly sincere.
Good Teeth’s showy set design and the deliciously outré costumes from Kinnetia Isidore set the tone perfectly and the cast look to be having a ball. Whether young’uns Cecilia Appiah and Matthew Broome, or (relative) old hands Emma Cunniffe and Richard Goulding, there’s a great level of energy. And Rachael Stirling is simply marvellous as the vivid Lady Susan Climber.
You’ll laugh plenty, you’ll goggle at the sugar-rush of the production values and you’ll most likely feel like the second half could wrap up a good while before it does. But even as it drags its feet, Scandaltown feels secure in its superficiality, happy to give a shot of entertainment for entertainments sake.